Amazon EC2 vs Intel NUC for a small server

NUC stands for Next Unit of Computing, a phrase used by Intel to describe their fanless computers. It is a complete computer that measures roughly the size of a book. This came at a time when I was considering abandoning my clunky 10 year old server at home and replacing it with Amazon’s cloud computer.

So, the question is this: which one is better for hosting a small website/file server? An Amazon EC2 instance, or a dedicated NUC that lives in your basement? Here are a few numbers that convinced me that NUC is the better choice.

First, it’s important to clarify that I am talking about a small website with only a few dozen visitors per day that will host wordpress blogs (this one), family photos and files. For this, the smallest EC2 instance (t2.micro) will be more than enough. It has 1GB RAM and a SSD or magnetic storage. SSD is faster than magnetic storage, but it costs more.

The NUC unit contains an Atom processor, 4GB RAM and 240GB SSD. Here is the cost and performance breakdown.

t2.micro + SSD t2.micro + magnetic Intel Atom NUC
Base hardware $75/year $75/year $140
RAM 1GB (included) 1GB (included) 4GB ($33)
Drive (240GB) $252/year $132/year $91
Energy included included $22/year1
Managed DNS Elastic IP Elastic IP $25/year2
Lifespan3 1 year 1 year 5 years
Bandwidth Included Included Included4
Avg cost $327/year $207/year $100/year
CPU benchmark5 11.1 seconds 11.1 seconds 32.8 seconds
Drive benchmark5 17.7 Mb/sec 2.5 Mb/sec 47.4 Mb/sec

1Average power consumption of 25 watts, with an electric cost of 10 cents/kWh.
2A managed DNS service such as noip.com.
3The dedicated hardware is assumed to last for 5 years.
4EC2 includes network access; for the dedicated server, I am assuming everyone has high speed internet access that can be shared with the server without a significant penalty.
5Benchmark testing was done with sysbench.

One of the biggest advantages of running an EC2 server is the ability to remotely reboot and fix the computer if there is a problem. With a dedicated server, if the computer fails to boot or loses network connectivity, there is no way to fix the problem without physically getting to the computer. This could be a problem if you are far from the computer,  out of town or out of the country.

 

Conclusion

The NUC server is less than half the cost of running an EC2 server. This assumes the bandwidth is already included. Disk access times are significantly faster with the NUC, which makes it suitable as a local file server. The biggest penalty is the processing power – the Atom processor is about 3 times slower than the t2.micro. For a simple website and file server, this is probably not a major disadvantage. The biggest advantage of EC2 is the ability to repair and reboot the computer remotely.